Misfortunes of fame

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 1995, 12:00am

Private Screening by Richard North Patterson Arrow $60 The Twisted Playground by Bryan Forbes Mandarin $85 IN Private Screening, Patterson, a trial lawyer in San Francisco, is on home ground, writing about a San Francisco lawyer who specialises in trials. From this base he has created a convoluted, confusing yet utterly absorbing story.

At a fund-raising pop concert on live television the presidential favourite is shot dead. The assassin, a Vietnam War burn-out, calls in up-and-coming attorney Tony Lord.

During the televised trial Lord becomes a national celebrity, recognised by passersby and pursued by journalists. But his fame makes him an open target for his enemies.

Then a kidnapper seizes a newspaper magnate's wife and the friend of a rock 'n' roll star. He threatens to kill them on television unless his demands are met, with the viewers allowed to vote if the hostages live or die. Fate then comes calling on Lord.

Patterson writes with a sure touch, but a light one. The threads of the story are spread over decades but in his hands they become a fine tapestry of terror with no loose ends. Beneath his pen the characters come alive. They are flawed, make mistakes, get things wrong, in a way that only makes them seem more human.

Meanwhile buried away beneath the action are some nagging questions. What is fame? Where are the boundaries between audience and actors? Are we all participants in the violence we see? Do not expect Patterson to give you the answers on a plate.

Bryan Forbes also deals with fame, trying to find the truth behind the face of public virtue.

An MP kills himself in a grimy Moscow hotel. Yet a year later his closest friend, Martin Weaver, sees him alive and well in Venice. Weaver is intrigued, and tries to find out more. This has all the makings of a first-class thriller, but it is spoilt by a mechanical plot. Characters we last heard of 200 pages before suddenly appear, for no apparent reason, while some of the most menacing disappear after barely a paragraph.

Far too often in the search for the villains we find ourselves in some unlikely place with Weaver wondering what he is doing there. It's a question the reader is already asking.